Post #25 – Say Hello to your Korean Acquaintances … Korean Idols on Billboards. Why the title “Thank you Zico”? Well, one late night I was coming back from a day trip and let’s face it, I can’t make sense of the Korean street system for the life of me. At each corner of a neighborhood, I see the same street name. OK, I am sure it makes sense somehow, but it did not make sense that evening. I suddenly got the feeling that, if I do get lost one of these days, I’ll have to take a taxi and tell them to take me to a well-known landmark and retrace my steps back home. And then, there he was. Zico smiling at me from a juice brand advertising displayed at the entrance of a small shop. Then and there I knew that I am only two blocks away from home. I turned to the ad and said: “Thank you Zico, I owe you one!”
Let’s be honest, for many of us foreigners, Korean idols are the people of Korea we are most familiar with, especially if we have not been exposed to a higher education involving Asian history, technology, literature and so forth. I knew some geography, politics and history…like where Korea was, that there had been a Korean war, the main Korean cities, what the climate in the peninsula was, who their neighbors were, who Ban Ki Mon was and what Samsung, Hyundai and KIA made. But not much more. When my curiosity was awoken, I had to look to the Internet and to books to learn more. Nevertheless, even today, the Koreans I know best are on my TV the screen and in my MP3.
After several visits to South Korea, I gathered much more than just knowledge. I’ve seen, tasted, touched, smelled and heard all things Korean. Unforgettable experiences and emotions. I met very special people who shared my interests; I’ve seen old friends and made new ones. But the well-known faces I stare at for days on end on my TV screen at home are still my most familiar acquaintances.
I’ve been asked many times back at home in the US how do I keep them apart, how do I remember their names, how do I not get confused about who is who. Please! How could I?! I believe Koreans also think we gringos can’t figure out who is who. One time I met Ji Chang Wook at a coffee shop, a totally empty one, late at night in Gangnam. There was nobody there but him and his two friends, the waiter and me. I introduced myself and told him that “Empress Ki” was my favorite historic drama. He stared at me politely, maybe thinking that I don’t have a clue who he is. So I said: “It is a pleasure meeting you, Ji Chang Wook.” He instantly lit up, jumped up, shook my hand and smiled from ear to ear. I had the privilege to talk with him a little and to take a photo together. His chingus were very nice as well, and complimented me on having the latest Samsung cellphone model. Little did they know that Samung is also my favorite brand for electronics, house appliances, computers, etc.
Yes, that cellphone is guilty of the majority of the photos that appear to this day on my blog, and will be my camera of choice in all my trips, along with my SLR as a back-up.
So, aside from bumping into the one-and-only Ji Chang Wook, I was looking around to see who else I recognize on billboards, banners and commercial ads around town. Here is the scoop: Seoul does not have many billboards on the highways or the main streets. You can see ads in markets, malls, pedestrian streets, underground, shopping and restaurant areas, or on buses and bus stations. My local Korean friends were laughing at me for knowing who everyone was… well, almost everyone.
I took a few photos of the ads I found. It is sweet beyond belief that nobody draws mustaches on them or anything of that kind; all are perfectly clean. Instead, there are marks left on idols’ photos from lipstick kisses. …They do make great selfie props for fans as well.
Here is a tip – if you want to bring back home some free idols’ photos, don’t buy magazines unless you can read them … or can’t live without a particular one. Magazines are sold in book stores, not in newsstands on the street, and are often covered in plastic, so you can’t look inside. Korean magazines are also very heavy, since they have hundreds and hundreds of pages, so they are not easy to fit inside your suitcase. Go instead to an upscale shopping mall and you will find promotional images from different brands among the racks or in windows. These are easy to photograph. Most of the models are well-known idols, so pick the ones you like best. And maybe you like what they promote and get some cool Korean clothes, shoes, or accessories as well.
Will we see Korean idols advertising products in other countries? Maybe. K-pop and k-dramas are spreading like brush fire, and maybe, sooner or later, we will see either BTS or GD endorsing Puma and Nike in the US as well. Would be lovely.